Posted by: globalsemester2010 | January 25, 2011

Homeward Bound

That’s all folks.

We’ve taken our exam, and written our papers. Our bags are packed, our rooms cleared out. In just under an hour we will say goodbye to Yonsei University, Seoul, and the global semester. Later today at the Tokyo airport, we will share one last group hug as we split for Hawaii, MSP and Tokyo.

 

Our ending is bittersweet, but we know that those we love at home are anxiously awaiting our return. We LOVE YOU ALL and will see you soon.

Happy Travels.

Lindsey

Posted by: globalsemester2010 | January 17, 2011

With 9 days to go…

Hi everyone!

Rest assured that we’re feeling like more of a family than ever before and the decision to come to Seoul has been greatly appreciated by all. The city has  lively feel to it, even when the temperatures are dropping to the single digits… eek! Good thing some of us get to stop in Hawaii on the way back before returning to our home tundra. We have discovered street pancakes, grilled from dough and stuffed with cinnamon and seeds of sorts in front of us. Most of us have ventured the metro system, discovering new sections of Seoul named Incheon, Hognvik, and Ogeum. We are adjusting to dorm life again, in the SK Global House and enjoying a sometimes twice daily dose of the CARIBOU COFFEE located in our building on the way to class.

Life here has been really nice, but we are all mentally preparing for the approaching journey home. We have experienced our last airport together. We have finished our last overnight excursion of the trip. Soon we will have to say goodbye to long bus rides. Thoughts swirl in our heads about how much we have changed, anticipation of new perceptions and how great it will be to hug our cherished families and friends. How fast these months have flown, yet  how good it will be to come home. :]

Here are some random updates based on my own observations over the last week or so:

Claire has knitted a forest green hat which her mom sent her for christmas. She later converted that hat to a headband. She decorated a mosaic mask at the mask museum, though she didn’t love it, I did!

Charlotte has discovered a used book store in Itaewon and is recently rocking her new chunky scarf purchased in the subway station in Seoul.

LaVana continues to impress me with her cute and creative hair styles, she enjoyed sledding instead of skiing this weekend and always makes us laugh with her wit.

Chase utilized layers and his rain gear as a snow suit this past weekend. He wizzed down the slopes also sporting his tie dyed bandana bandit syle on his face.

Luke continues to follow yahoo sports and raves about the basketball game he has recently discovered in a nearby arcade. Also, he’s pretty good at winning card games.

Erik will eat anything, at least once. He eagerly seeks new opportunities, especially with locals and has enjoyed some fun time spent with two local girls that he, Catherine and Dave met while at the cat cafe.

Eric is growing a nice beard on his face, but he says he will shave it for Hawaii. Recently, he added a nice chocolate mosaic to one of his white t-shirts, which occurred during a run-in with Sara’s hot cocoa cup.

Sean impressed us with his snowboard AND ski skills this weekend. He also won a ski race against our guide, Kaitlyn.

Catherine recently named a classical music piece by heart that was playing in a parking lot (Koreans like having soundtracks to every aspect of life).

Caty ate dippin’ dots and giggled while watching silly sledding incidents at the ski slopes. Her bear, Bea is endeared by us all.

Dave introduced me to frozen snickers today. His Minnesotan accent is permanent and creates smiles wherever he talks.

Danny’s hair is getting tall. He and Christina tote their football player sized insulated Kazhumi jackets purchased on the streets of Hong Kong. Tonight he is going to a 4-D movie.

Lauren was saved from a runaway skiier by  Royal. She has started a knitting project with yarn from a Myeongdong market.

Ingrid has nicely painted blue nails with flowers which match Skye’s. She honed in on her art skills during mask decorating at the mask museum during the last excursion.

Erin totes a Caribou coffee mug which she manages to keep unstained from her red lipstick. She famously scopes out the city life of Seoul, discovering concerts from awesome bands.

Jonathan surprised us with his singing voice at karaoke last week. The guy can sing (he can also dance)! Laughs are guaranteed while conversing with him. Especially if it involves cat woman’s fate.

Royal dared the icy moguls at the ski resort. He slightly resembles a soviet in his fur hat and peacoat.

Annemarie is slowly but surely (with Nura) turning us all into fanatics of the Tudors. She somehow manages to balance our classes with fun AND steady internship applications.

Quyen wears FUZZY white ear muffs to fight the bitter cold. She is a hoot when it comes to standing up from falling on her skis.

Clare recently entertained a friend from her year in New York who is teaching english in Seoul. She and I discovered a DELICIOUS  Japanese curry restaurant named CoCo Curry.

Sara is always down for ‘splorin the nearby area. Her long white scarf is contraband near Eric’s new peacoat because it sheds. Do not try to doughnut her.

Marta’s eyes glow with beauty in the winter light, especially when her scarf is wrapped around her neck. She showed off her Taekwondo skills last week, winning one of 4 gold metals.

Maiv Yias learned to ski this weekend! A group of us watched and cheered as she made her way down the hill in her cute yellow snow suit.

Nura has had the chance to use her polysci skills in class lately. I am always impressed with the questions she asks (she understands it all better than I think I ever will!) Her hair is growing long and luxurious and she nicely pulls off elegant black nails.

Julia got to enjoy snowboarding this last weekend. She is a travelling companion to Skye, often playing games with her on long bus rides.

Christina is relied on for navigational instincts, the girl knows her way around cities!  We recently discovered the wealth of free beauty products that Seoul street shops offer patrons, purfect!

Morgan took some stellar photos of a Confucian school. She also pioneered the ski slopes for the first time in her adult life AND graduated out of the bunny hill on the first day.

Skye explores the city with Michelle between home school lessons. They  recently enjoyed the cat cafe. She also passed a math class with flying colors. I have been impressed with her adaptability and often wonder if I would have survived 5 months away from home at her age. It was really fun watching her ski this weekend, she is a ski racer and I’m sure misses that part of home.

Michelle home schools Skye, recently working toward a history day project focused on Korean conflict. She has been a valued blessing on our journey. Her humerus comments and intellect are much appreciated. We will have a girls night over dinner with her later this week.

Bill impressed us in his element on the slopes. His lectures offer perspective directly relevant to our experiences. We are all beginning to realize and cherish the life long friend we have made in him. We feel VERY  lucky to have the Sonnegas as our leaders.

 

and me, Lindsey, I dared the icy terrain with non traction fake ugg boots and met my maker, falling 4 times (no injury, though!). I’m continuing to explore Seoul and loving the street food. I am constantly reflecting on how lucky we are to have the group that we do. And it amazes me that I am still making observations and gaining insight into a variety of lives.

This week we will travel to the DMZ. After our various lectures, including our most recent,  WONDERFUL speaker, Chung-in Moon, we have realized that perception shapes fear. I’m sure each of us will have a provocative discussion with you about what we have learned especially in terms of North Korea. None of us are any longer worried about the venture. We will also attend a traditional dance by NANTA. Our last weekend will undoubtedly include a trip to the karaoke bar and one last drink of Soju. And then, then we will pack up and say goodbye one of our efficacious lifestyles, and hello to another.

I feel that I should thank each and every one of the parents, families and friends who have helped to shape every person in our group. We have the perfect mix of personalities and backgrounds and such would not be so without your love and support.

Trust that we are and will continue to take care of each other.
Be well out there, and see you SOON!

<3 Lindsey

Posted by: globalsemester2010 | January 6, 2011

Comfort in Unpredictability

One thing I’ve learned from the Global Semester is that a person can adapt to just about anything, if they are willing. Throughout our travels we have toured ancient Egyptian temples in 110+ degree heat, we have walked barefoot through some of the least sanitary streets of India, we have taken freezing cold showers, encountered snakes and 9-inch millipedes, and we have slept four to a tiny compartment on night-trains. We do these things with only minor complaints, as we know this is what we signed up for, and we are all the better for each and every one of the experiences we have – especially those which are not within our personal comfort zones.

In India we took many long bus rides. One of our final excursions was to Mysore. It was raining outside and night had fallen, but we had one final stop before we could rest at our hotel and eat dinner. The bus parked and Bill got on the microphone and informed us that we were about to see a “water and lights show” which is apparently very popular in Mysore. Having no idea what we were about to experience, we got our umbrellas and walked about 10 minutes through puddles and intense rain to reach a place where a group of over 100 people gathered around a large fountain. The spectators in the front row were going crazy for the show that consisted of water shooting out of fountains with colored lights that were timed to music. Most of us found the experience pretty entertaining – especially watching the people cheering for the lights/fountain – though some of us left the place a little perplexed. When we got back on the bus, Bill picked up the microphone and said to us “The global semester is a 43-year-old beast, and it will take you places and do things to you that are completely unpredictable.” This rings true for our trip as a whole.

I can think of countless times on this trip that excursions, places, food, hotel rooms, bathrooms, and even people have been completely different from my expectations. It may seem that our entire trip is scheduled to the very second, and we should almost always know what we are doing and when, but our expectations are often not met, for better or for worse. We were expecting to stay at the Horizon Suites in Hong Kong, but in India we learned that it was no longer possible, and we would instead reside at the Hyatt Regency. I’d say we all found this to be a rather pleasant change of plans, and we took full advantage of the work-out facilities and our close proximity to campus.

Right now we are staying at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea. This is our final leg of the trip – but even THIS wasn’t guaranteed. The political tensions between North and South Korea caused some anxiety and we were not sure if we would be able to end this trip the way we had planned. Luckily things calmed down and we got what we wanted – but nothing is guaranteed on the Global Semester, not to mention Global affairs.

Despite bouts of “mummy tummy” in Egypt, a lack of toilet paper in India, lost/stolen/broken cameras and wallets, and cold-induced coughs and illnesses throughout Asia, we have fallen in love with the world. We have learned to accept its imperfections as beauty. With wide eyes we have wondered at the commonalities and differences between the cultures we’ve encountered and the culture we call home. We have found that while traveling around the world, there is only so much you can prepare for. The one thing you can count on is unpredictability.

-          Morgan

 

Posted by: globalsemester2010 | December 21, 2010

Miniature Hong Kong

Every year, my family and I go to the M&I Bank in downtown Milwaukee to look at their Christmas display of FAO Schwartz animals in the lobby. If we go at the right time in the afternoon, there will be a trio playing jazzy Christmas music next to a table with sprinkled sugar cookies that always look much better than they taste. The M&I exhibit differs year to year, and while it’s just a few hundred feet to walk around, you could spend hours picking out the smallest details. Often there are miniature trains that travel around the exhibit, fake snow, and stuffed animals (especially penguins!) galore. Many of the animals move and interact with the other animals, and they usually collaborate on a project like working at the North Pole.

Visiting M&I bank will be something I will miss this year, but in a way, I’ve found my own version of a Christmas exhibit to look at in Hong Kong. A few nights this past month I’ve sat n the marble ledge in our hotel room on the 19th floor, with a cup of hot jasmine tea in hand, and I have found some of those same details in the grand Hong Kong metropolis view out of our huge glass window. The apartment buildings across Tolo Harbor light up the exhibit and the MTR (metro) is like the Christmas train, weaving in and out of the hundreds of tall apartment complexes. Right below our hotel, next to the University MTR station, is a bus depot and place where taxis line up, waiting for passengers. The taxi lines are my favorite to look at; there is one cue for red taxis and another for green taxis. Every minute or two, the front taxi takes off, and the ones behind it move forward. The organization of the system and the neat lines that these taxis form represent the Hong Kong culture so well. Efficiency, safety, cleanliness, organization– it’s all part of this Hong Kong exhibit. From the window, these Christmas-colored taxis appear to be about 1 inch wide, and I almost feel like I could move them myself if I just stretched my arm long enough. (It reminds me of how I liked to make long straight lines of toy cars on our family room carpet when I was younger, which is something that is surprisingly satisfying – at least for me.) The gorgeous mountains and natural lands hide behind the curtain of darkness; it’s easy to forget that they exist and actually make up about 60% of the land in this concentrated and highly populated region of Hong Kong.

Unlike the M&I exhibit, I can both admire Hong Kong from the 19th floor of our hotel, and I can also participate in its activity. I’ve enjoyed exploring the city on my own during the weekends, and I have found the cool details in many places. I was reminded of the significance of the journey rather than the destination when I met a Shanghai man on the tram up to Victoria’s peak, Hong Kong’s tallest mountain, and heard his stories of work and travel. I stumbled upon Chungking Mansion, a colorful cultural hub of small shops owned by Africans, Indians, and Chinese, and had to remind myself I wasn’t back in Bangalore. And I have a new appreciation for the details in Chinese art, like the little fishermen boats in Chinese literati paintings or the red stamps on Chinese calligraphy scrolls.

Traveling reminds me that it’s the details – whether they are in a small Milwaukee Christmas display or in Hong Kong’s 7 million person metropolis – that make the difference.

Merry Christmas!

Charlotte

A daylight view from our hotel window

Sara, Eric, Clare, Erik, Catherine, and David in the MTR on the way to the Science Museum

Posted by: globalsemester2010 | December 10, 2010

How do you stare?

How do you stare?

That is, to say the least, a question that most people are not asked. Take the time, though, to actually sit and think about it. When you see something new and interesting, do you blank out stare or do you timidly glance in its direction? Do you be courteous about your curiosity, or do not care at all and just decide to walk up to them and “Be up all in their face!” This is one of the many types of staring I have witnessed during our global trip.

A majority of our group has discovered over the course of our travels that their flashing blonde hair and glittering blues, or dark lofty brunettes with crystal green eyes accompanied by peachy skin, are a constant topic of interest. In Egypt they suffered from far away gazes or quick turn arounds that screamed ‘I want to make sure I saw that right’. In India they experienced, when clustered together, there are people, mostly men, brazen enough to walk up to them, stand, and stare as they receive a guided tour. Not even starring them in the face will quickly deter them from gawking. Even the eyes of children, though innocent as they may be, that still create slight unease. In Thailand the starring gradually decreased, and when hitting China they have all but blended into the crowd. However, one does notice the curious glance that is more of the Western fashion. It is the one where they stare at you, but when the object you stare at looks your way, you quickly avert your eyes to be impolite. I can say that at least every person in the group has experienced one or more of these cases. One thought is, “They probably don’t see much of my type of features” and have gradually accepted the starring factor in their own way.

From this, such topics titled “I now know how it feels like to be a minority”, “Is my hair really that uncommon?”, “I really am in a foreign country”, “Don’t they have any manners?” are some discussions or thoughts that developed over time. Being in a different culture, not only acting and living differently, but also looking out of the ordinary, can be an alarmingly beneficial thing to experience and to be seen. It shows both parties that people are as diverse as the earths crusty layers. That once in a while people will stare at something they have not seen before, and that it is left up to the person whether the intense eyes of another individual will be a positive or negative experience.

Scientists do the same thing. When they discover something or want to study it, they either place an item underneath a microscope and watch, or go out into the field, hunker down in a bush, and observe the item. And they don’t back off if there is a sense of uneasiness, not unless it is a wild animal and then they give it space. Yet it is basically the same concept used for learning. It is our curiosity that helps us to learn, and the object of our attention to take time and notice someone is learning. That’s how human beings observe something new and interesting: they stare. And in the case of our global group, we might be uncomfortable with the extra eyes, but at least we are gaining knowledge.

So when you see something that you haven’t seen before, be it a person or object, take time to check on how do you stare?

-LaVana Colebrooke

Posted by: globalsemester2010 | December 5, 2010

The Global Experiment by Lindsey

As I sit down to write this blog post, I am lying on a down comforter looking out past our bay window seat onto the Tolo Harbour skyline of Hong Kong. Nestled behind the metal skyscrapers rise glorious mountains dotted with green, grey and brown. To my right is a 42” flat screen TV and behind me is our kitchenette complete with refrigerator, two pot stove top, sink and microwave. We have lived in various conditions within these last couple months, but this is by far the ‘most comfortable.’ It feels that most like ‘home’.

Yesterday I went for a hike. With Chase, Julia and Luke as my companions, we set out for Lantau Island at 9 in the morning. We easily navigated the MTR metro train connections to the Island, stocked up on lunch-like goodies from the ever present 7-eleven, and then set course for the big mountain in the distance. A little backtracking and some directional confusion eventually lead to an hour of wandering and a chat with a nice Australian man who doubted our commitment to a rigorous 3 hour hike. In all of this, I reflected on all that I had learned from my comrades. This same group set out to climb Brevent Peak in the French Alps way back in Geneva. What have we learned about each other since then? How are our interactions different? I reflected on the ways in which we have learned to trust each other and the roles we have etched out for ourselves in the greater 3 month old family. How will those roles shift when we return to campus? Such reverie enveloped me through our hike.

After gaining about 400 feet in elevation from walking on vertical, winding roadside pavement, we reached the trailhead (where we noted a bus was promptly dropping off other curious adventurers who had decided not to wander and gain early calf burn- we decided to count the initial climb as a warm-up). The hike up and over the peak and down to Big Buddha would take us about 3 hours. The scene was phenomenal. To our left was the sea. Ferries hurriedly skittered across the water’s surface between beachy islands, and more mountains rose from the hazy horizon; it was impossible to distinguish the sea’s edge from the beginning of the sky. To our right was the Hong Kong airport and high rise apartments identifying the vertical sprawl necessary in this country. Wispy wheat like plants and tall grasses formed a sloping blanket covering the hillside. Sparse trees dotted the landscape. A light breeze and overcast sky kept us cool and contented as we followed the meandering dirt trail. The Australian was correct, though. The hike was quite strenuous, but it fulfilled the exact adventure which we sought. Trail conversation happily passed between us and epic photos commenced. We each carried joyful hearts and elated spirits while we embraced the company and organic scenery.

Many, many downward steps later we found ourselves at the feet of Big Buddha, having passed through a wisdom path. The sun set behind us as we rode the cable car back to Chek Lap Kok. We filled our bellies with Pizza Hut and then rode the MTR home, feeling giddy and accomplished. I realized during the hike that before Hong Kong not since Geneva have we been able to take an entire day to do as we pleased. I felt refreshed and rejuvenated! Further reflection lead me to think about group dynamics and the global family. Everything I know about everyone except Morgan, I have learned during this trip. Sometimes I feel as though we are in some kind of strange science experiment. Are the impressions I have left on and formed of others true to the other twenty years of our lives? I have begun to ask myself whether the interactions I have cultivated truly explain me as a person. I have also recognized that in choosing this journey, we have decided to leave behind everything that defines us as people. Many of us left behind significant others, sports teams, and musical instruments-among other things. We have begun to understand ourselves and each other without these defining items. What then, are we left with?

My mom sent me some wisdom to ponder while traveling and woven among other cherished thoughts sat a reminder that every person, no matter their culture or origin, wants to feel as though they matter and to feel accepted. When we break down society to the bare bones, this is what we are left with. The global family has silently and ubiquitously decided to accept each person for who they are. After all, we are in this crazy science experiment together. We have spent every single day with each other, often noting how 24 hours can pass without seeing one person and we wonder what has happened- we miss them! We know, in detail, the contents of each other’s suitcases and are learning the intricacies to every personality. Without familiarities to define us, we have found various other ways to portray ourselves. Interesting, isn’t it, to imagine that we can only really discover and recognize our true selves after we strip away that which defines us. We find ways to connect to the greater world in the ways we know how. For me it is to hike. For others it is in orchestra concerts, boat rides, dance parties, reading books or in pick-up sports games.

The global experiment has many lessons, and I think the most important of which has been to learn to create various homes for ourselves and to embrace numerous personalities. After all, home is where your stuff is, and we’ve got plenty of that (er, 50 lbs anyway).

<3 Linds

Posted by: globalsemester2010 | December 1, 2010

Like a pride of lions…

Hello friends and family! Like a lion starved for prey, your appetites for information have been tested by a 20-day drought. I apologize to you all, but I really was slated for the 1st—maybe you will be so excited about receiving an update that you will ignore the absence of meaningful content. I’ll do my best.

How to cover 20 days in a (reasonably) brief blog post? This would be a daunting task with a normal daily schedule, but with the life of a St. Olaf Globalite…good luck. Time is an ethereal concept on Global. I wish I could explain how our days can be so full, time moving at a snail’s pace through night flights followed by day-long bus tours, yet also shunt us along so incomprehensibly quickly that we are now 90 days through our trip. 90 days. That is over three months. As I am incredulous that this could be true, I think back on where we have been, what we have done, and it hits me. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity: we are moving at the speed of light, so time seems to move slower to us, even as it flies by in the outside world! Maybe not.

Still, 20 days is an incredible amount to cover, so, in the fine tradition of my predecessors, I will try to focus on a significant, thought-provoking perspective. In the last 20 days, we have traveled worlds away. We have moved from the peaceful environment of the ECC, nestled between the world’s premier technology parks and dilapidated shanties, to the developed, urban metropolis of Hong Kong. 20 days ago exactly, I was watching “The Incredibles” with my favorite ECC kids, Sam and Likhit, an hour away from crawling under my mosquito netting into a bed not made for 6’2” people. Now I sit in the luxury of the Hyatt Regency, in the freshly-made queen-size bed I share with my good friend Jonathan.

It wasn’t a single leap, though. We have been through a three-hour exam on the (many) religions of India, followed by a day of celebration and goodbyes with our ECC family. We have traveled to the polluted, impoverished, but beautiful city of Delhi, which included a visit to the Taj Mahal and Humayun’s Tomb, two of the most impressive buildings I have ever seen. We savored our last overnight flight, immediately followed by a full-day tour (which ran parallel to the First [and last] Global Semester Bangkok Nap-Taking Competition, of which there were many noble showings) with Tony, our tour guide, whose energy was orders of magnitude greater than that of the entire group combined. Perhaps most notably, though, was the five-day period of Fall Break, which we all spent separately.

I could tell you about my own time in Thailand, which consisted of the perfect mix of adventure and relaxation, jungle and ocean, and fruit shake and banana pancake. But that would be to ignore the equally amazing trips of my 30 compatriots. What is most appropriate, I think, is to ignore all 31 amazing trips, and leave those for individual re-telling. This also may be the most relevant choice, because, as I am finding, what is Global Semester without all 31 of us? We are not together constantly, far from it, but there is something comforting, something right, about us living our lives in tandem. We have sat through 3.5 lectures here in Hong Kong, and each time that somebody has been gone, it is soon noticed. As Claire elegantly addressed in her last blog post, we are part of a community, both within and outside of our immediate group.

Although we may have experienced a quantum shift in conditions, from semi-rural India to über-urban Hong Kong, our community has kept us grounded. This was most apparent to me after returning from my fall break experience. We left each other without much to-do, which shouldn’t have been a big deal, after all, it was only for five days. However, I found myself regretting not sharing a more intentional goodbye with my fellows. And as my small group journeyed back to reunite with everyone in Bangkok, I found my sadness at the end of our idyllic vacation overwhelmed by excitement! I was hours away from seeing my Global family, hearing their amazing stories, and preparing for another incredible adventure.

From India to Hong Kong, and from the ECC to the Hyatt Regency—a smooth transition by no stretch of the imagination. We have gone from poverty to affluency, from an exotic, foreign world to a developed, Westernized, and often familiar one. I haven’t come close to processing this jump, and I’m sure that I won’t anytime soon. It doesn’t involve only comprehension, but a self-examination, of my own lifestyle and beliefs. If and when I do, though, it will be with the help of my Global family.

As you are all likely aware, this last Thursday was Thanksgiving. Happy belated Thanksgiving! We enjoyed a very special, and surprisingly traditional, meal, and in true Thanksgiving fashion, shared what we were thankful for. The answers ranged from the humorous to the philosophical, the practical to the sentimental, but many of them were in appreciation of the Global family. No replacement for you all, our family and friends back home, but another, special, community.

I think I can safely speak for us all saying that we miss you, especially as we enter the heart of the holiday season. I hope that I can also speak for everyone in saying that we have formed a tight-knit support system, similar to a mega-pride of lions (something Danny, Jonathan and I saw on National Geographic the other night). In order for the analogy to work, Bill and Michelle are the dominant females, and we are submissive females and adolescent males. We will stand by each other through thick and thin, through drought or rainy season, and when prey is scarce. We may scratch and maul each other along the way, but it will be in a playful way. When it really comes down to business, when one of our pride needs us, or when we are on the hunt, we will move as a cohesive unit. Together, we can and will bring down that gazelle.

Peace and love from the mega-pride!
Eric

Posted by: globalsemester2010 | November 19, 2010

New Hong Kong address

Hi friends and families!

Here’s a quick note for those of you who don’t know:

Due to some overbooking at the place we were originally going to stay at in Hong Kong, we will now be spending the next month at the following address (starting Nov. 24).

Hyatt Regency Hong Kong, Sha Tin
18 Chak Cheung Street
Sha Tin, New Territories
Hong Kong
Phone: 852 3723 7316
Fax: 852 3723 7309

Thanks! We’ll get back to you soon after our fall breaks in Thailand!

Posted by: globalsemester2010 | November 10, 2010

A truly global community

On September 4th we left our friends, professors, and peers behind on the Hill in exchange for five months of experiential learning on the road. From orientation onward we began forming what is now a tight-knit group, but also joined communities around the world along the way. With ample time in India for thoughtful reflection, I keep coming back to the concept of community, and its value in all areas of life. Nowhere is this value more evident than at the Ecumenical Christian Center (ECC), and we are fortunate to be welcomed into their community with open arms and hearts.

In a community you are there for your companions in times of sorrow and joy–what is felt by one member of the community affects the entire clan. Our group of 30 has experienced days of elation, excitement, and stimulation, but also long hours on a bus, short nights of sleep, and all sorts of upset GI tracts. At the ECC we were brought into the fold early on for a birthday celebration and since then Globalite birthdays have also turned into community events. All of the children are invited and attend the parties with excitement, clutching small gifts and thoughtful, hand-made cards for the lucky celebrant. The children are just as excited as if it were their own birthday, evidence that the happiness or sadness of one in a true community is felt and shared by everyone.

Similarly, in an ideal community, everyone contributes the skills and resources that they have to offer. Although we have been assigned committees by Bill and Michelle, all of us also contribute to the Global group in more abstract ways. Some people provide comic relief, while others advice, and still others words of caution or reason. On the day of Diwali our group was in serious need of someone with sari-wrapping skills because after purchasing these lovely garments we realized that we had no idea how to wear them. Luckily, the women of the ECC stopped their holiday preparations to pitch in their effort. As I stood like an awkward mannequin, several meters of material were wrapped, pleated, and pinned expertly around my body. I was clucked and fussed over for several minutes, and then pushed out the door when everything hung just so. Like in any good community, everyone contributes where they can to ensure that everything runs smoothly and that everyone’s needs are attended to, however trivial or minute they might be.

While studying the religions of India, it is impossible to ignore the communities that are created around spiritual practices. This week we attended an ECC community church service featuring the children, and followed by a breakfast shared by all. As the children sang and acted in a short skit, it was touching to see the older ones guiding the youngsters by the hand or shoulder, demonstrative of the love we all felt as we prayed and were prayed for during the service. Through other services, lessons, and temple visits, we have learned that there are really more similarities than differences between various religious communities. While staying at the ECC we were able to attend a question and answer session with the Archbishop of Canterbury and several Hindu leaders, and it was heartening to see peaceful and productive dialogue occurring between representatives of such seemingly disparate communities.

Through the growth of our own community and interactions with others, we are learning more about the types of communities that we want to be a part of in the future, and where they might fit into the world. As we consider this it is impossible to ignore the shrinking nature of the Global community, but on this trip I think that we have already realized that perhaps it was never as vast or as foreign as we once imagined.

-Claire

Posted by: globalsemester2010 | November 7, 2010

Finding Faith

Two months into an epic journey around the world, I feel that our most moving experiences, whether in Egypt or India, always seem to come down to one thing: faith.

I know the things we’ve experienced will take time to process, and there are no easy answers, but here are three short reflections I’d like to share with you.

A Holy Pilgrimage…

I wanted to climb Mt. Sinai to find my faith. I wanted to experience a religious revelation, to have an intense and quiet personal dialogue with God, to reflect on my own beliefs and understanding of the almighty creator. It was two o’clock in the morning, and we stood in darkness at the base of the mountain. I switched on my headlamp, picked up my pack and began the three hour climb. As I carefully negotiated the rocky switchbacks, avoiding oncoming camel traffic, I surveyed the landscape, my breath catching in my throat. A long stream of flickering lights illuminated the path both behind and ahead of me; I was one light in the middle of hundreds.

Making the slow climb up Mt. Sinai was a deeply humbling experience. Walking alongside people of all ages, languages and religious traditions, a powerful force was at work; a force I can only understand to be faith. While curiosity certainly enticed some, like the group of teenagers jamming up the mountain to the beat of their cellphone ring-tones, I have to believe others were motivated by faith in a force much larger than themselves. This was embodied in the eighty-year-old woman, who harnessed every last ounce of energy to hobble up the uneven terrain under the support of her cane, and in the elderly priest from Uganda, who was overcome with joy and emotion as he watched the sun crest the horizon at the summit. I found out later, he had been saving money for his whole life to make this holy pilgrimage. While I may not have had the contemplative religious dialogue I expected, nor clearly established an understanding of my own personal faith, I did find faith – it was walking alongside me the entire time.

A Selfless Existence…

Nestled in one of the poorest sections of Mumbai, India, a few blocks down the road from the local YMCA, a make shift dusty cricket field, and a row of dilapidated wooden structures nearly fifty percent of Mumbai’s population calls home, there is an orphanage. Walking past the security guard and through its iron gates, we were greeted by the Sisters, a team of women dedicated to fulfilling Saint Mother Teresa’s mission to alleviate the poverty, illness and destitution plaguing the streets of India. Our walk through the complex was one of the most difficult and heart wrenching experiences of my life – a feeling of helplessness I will not soon forget. We saw children with missing limbs, dragging themselves across the floor, women suffering from AIDs, only moments from their last breath, and men, usually the embodiment of physical and mental “machismo,” reduced to nothing but skin and bones. My eyes watered up, and I couldn’t breath. But we were reminded of the sign on the front door, which read: “Do not pity us.” And they were right. They didn’t need pity, or tears, or the confusion and frustration that comes with seeing victims of poverty and abandonment. They needed size 6 t-shirts (not in black or white), gym shorts, new syringes, fresh apples, and smiles. So that is what we brought.

What for us was a one-hour emotionally draining tour and quick shopping trip for clothing and fruit, is a daily reality for all of the Sisters at the orphanage. Every morning they wake up before dawn to pray and gives thanks to God in preparation for the coming day. Then they cook and clean, spoon feed and change diapers. They patiently teach, tenderly nurture, and unconditionally love. They are truly inspiring women, who have selflessly dedicated their lives to helping others. How do they find the strength and courage to press on? How do they remain positive in the face of such hardship? Attending mass daily, praying constantly, and humbling themselves before God, they live for a higher mission. While I can only speculate, I truly believe it has to be an intense faith in a God who loves all and calls all to love. They must be motivated and rejuvenated by their faith in a being far greater and more powerful than themselves. To have that much faith and dedication, when confronted with so much pain and suffering, is truly incredible.

A Message of Communion…

Growing up in a generation stained by the horrors of September 11th, the bloody Israeli-Palestine conflict, and the extremist-inspired bombings throughout Europe, the religious world I have known is one focused on difference and grounded in intolerance. My cynicism, however, was alleviated upon meeting Srimath Swami Harshanandaji, the current Swami, or guru, at the Ramakrishna Math Ashram. We entered the meeting hall and this elderly, rather feeble looking man (despite his enormous, un-pronounceable name) was dressed completely in orange and sported a winter hat. We took a seat and listened intently. In a quiet voice he spoke about the history of Hinduism and the caste system, explained the process of accumulating karma and the cycle of reincarnation, and clarified that Hindus do not practice idolatry. As his lecture came to a close, he left us with a few words of wisdom and an image that will stay with me forever. Emphasizing that Christianity and Hinduism are more similar than most recognize, he shared that he too, like most devout Christians, reads the Bible. He then quoted his favorite passage, in the words of Jesus: “Lord, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” As he spoke his voice quivered as his eyes filled up with tears. He had to excuse himself, as he couldn’t finish. At a Hindu Ashram in the heart of India, a deeply respected and faithful Swami was overcome with emotion, to the point of tears, while reciting the most important Christian text. It was a powerful and moving moment. Maybe faith extends beyond the borders of our own religious traditions and doctrines. Maybe faith is a larger, more universal and uniting force than we can ever comprehend.

On that note, we wish you all a happy Diwali! More blog posts coming soon!

~Julia

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